States purged more than 16 million voters from the rolls between 2014 and 2016. That number, calculated in a new report published Friday by the Brennan Center for Justice, is a significant increase from previous years and an indication that large numbers of eligible voters are likely being disenfranchised by inaccurate and unlawful voter roll maintenance.
The report comes just a few weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ohio’s voter purge system, clearing the way for more states to move forward with the types of purges that disproportionately impact low-income and minority voters.
For the two years before the 2016 election, the number of purged voters across the county increased 33 percent over the two years before the 2008 presidential election, according to the report. The increase in purged voters was most significant in parts of the country with a history of racial discrimination that, until the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, were required to seek pre-approval of changes to their voting laws from the Department of Justice.
The report, which examined purge data submitted to the Election Assistance Commission, found that states historically subject to preclearance were purging voters at a higher rate than other states. If the jurisdictions with a history of discrimination had purged voters at the same rate as other jurisdictions, 2 million fewer voters would have been removed from the rolls from 2012 to 2016.
In Texas, for example, one of the states previously subject to federal preclearance, approximately 363,000 more voters were erased from the rolls in the first election cycle after Shelby County than in the comparable midterm election cycle immediately preceding it,” the report said. “And Georgia purged twice as many voters — 1.5 million — between the 2012 and 2016 elections as it did between 2008 and 2012.”
While the Justice Department previously served as a check on states seeking to disenfranchise eligible voters through list maintenance, the agency under Trump has shifted course and indicated its eagerness for states to more aggressively purge their rolls. When the Supreme Court was considering the legality of Ohio’s system — which removed individuals who did not vote in an election, did not respond to a mailed notice, and then did not vote in two more federal elections — the Trump Justice Department wrote a brief in support of Ohio’s purge system.
The federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), passed in 1993, set standards for how states can maintain their voter rolls. Under the law, states are only allowed to remove voters if they were never eligible to vote (if they are under 18 or non-citizens) or if they have committed a disenfranchising crime, been deemed mentally incompetent, moved residences, or died. In those cases, states must give notice to voters that are going to be removed, providing them an opportunity to remedy any errors. States are also are not permitted to conduct widespread purges in the months leading up to an election.
According to the report, four states (Florida, New York, North Carolina, and Virginia) have engaged in illegal purges in the last five years and another four (Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, and Maine) have implemented purge rules that violate federal law.
Many of the states conducting illegal purges use the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, the brainchild of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R). The Crosscheck system is extremely flawed — a vast majority of the names the system flags as voters in two states are not actually double-voters, and at least eight states have pulled out of the system because of its high margin of error.
The use of voter purges is just part of a scheme by Republican politicians who vastly exaggerate the threat of voter fraud in order to push laws and policies that end up disenfranchising voters. The 2016 election was the first presidential contest without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, and evidence of how many voters were affected by the loss in protections continues to emerge.